Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biology

First Advisor

Alison K. Brody

Abstract

Mycorrhizal fungi are soil-borne organisms that form symbiotic associations with the majority of land plants. These fungi gather and exchange mineral nutrients with plants for photosynthetically derived carbohydrates. Mycorrhizal fungi can also confer other benefits onto plants, e.g. defense against pathogens, improved water relations, tolerance to heavy metal toxicity and herbivory. The influence of mycorrhizal fungi on plant mineral nutrition and response to stress suggests that these organisms may have a role to play sustainable agriculture as well as in bioremediation and ecosystem restoration.

In contributing to this important research, I investigated host-specific interactions between mycorrhizal fungi and the sex morphs of the gynodioecious perennial herb Polemonium foliosissimum (Polemoniaceae) and their mycorrhizal associates in the field. I hypothesized that the genders of this species differed in their associations with mycorrhizal fungi in benefits received. I performed a full factorial simulated herbivory experiment and evaluated the extent of mycorrhizal colonization in the roots as well as the concentrations of nutrients in leaf tissue. Mycorrhizal colonization and leaf nutrient concentrations did not differ between the genders nor were influenced by the experimental treatments. This suggests that the genders of Polemonium foliosissimum do not interact differently with mycorrhizal fungi, and thus do not represent different "hosts".

Also, I investigated local adaptation of mycorrhizal associations by exploring the effect of large herbivore grazing on plant-mycorrhizal associations. I hypothesized that grazing by large herbivores results in locally adapted symbioses that enhance plant response to herbivory. I grew the perennial bunchgrass Themeda triandra (Poaceae) in inoculum prepared from soils collected from three field exclosures with differing histories of large herbivore exclusion in the Kenya Long Term Exclosure Experiment. I conducted a full factorial simulated herbivory experiment in which plants were subject to two clipping events over the course of 5-months, and evaluated plant regrowth as well as mycorrhizal colonization for plants in the experiment. Plants grown in inoculum from exclosures in which large herbivores have had access produced more root mass when mycorrhizal fungi were present. Further, I found equivalent biomass production of clipped and non-clipped plants in inoculum prepared from the exclosure with only native large herbivore access while equivalent biomass production was not found in the substrate prepared from areas with a history of large herbivore exclusion. This suggests that mycorrhizal fungi mediate plant growth and response to herbivory in this system.

Language

en

Number of Pages

153 p.